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FURNISHINGS : Got a Minute? Make Moving a Snap; Some Assembly Required

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For anyone who has ever dragged a 91-inch couch up a long flight of stairs or attempted to shove a massive entertainment unit through a doorway the size of a keyhole, there’s good news in the furniture department.

Furniture manufacturers have come up with couches, sofas and other home furnishings that can be pulled apart and snapped together again as easy as Legos.

New advances in ready-to-assemble furniture are especially designed for highly mobile areas such as Orange County, where people never seem to stay in one place for long. Come moving day, it’s simple to break down a bulky sofa or love seat and transfer it in pieces to its new destination.

One of the most talked-about developments in the ready-to-assemble category is a line of upholstered sofas, love seats and chairs called Simply Together that the manufacturer says can be easily assembled or taken apart--without tools--in three minutes.

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When delivered, a Simply Together sofa comes in three large boxes weighing less than 50 pounds that can be carried up stairways, into elevators or through narrow doorways.

Produced by Masco Corp., a huge furniture manufacturer based in High Point, N.C., the Simply Together line is unique because the modular pieces hook together to look just like traditional upholstered furniture.

“The mentality of some people is if it can be assembled, then the quality can’t be there,” says Linda Jones, executive consultant to Masco.

To prove the skeptics wrong, Masco invited the home furnishings media to the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City several months ago to see how Simply Together works. Masco representatives put one of the Simply Together sofas under a spotlight.

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After demonstrating how the sofa could be taken apart and reassembled in minutes, the representatives announced to the audience that the sofas and chairs they were sitting on in the hotel salon were all Simply Together pieces.

“Some people literally jumped out of their seats,” Jones says.

The company is touting the sofas as the solution for people living in second-floor apartments and condominiums who have had trouble moving furniture into tight living spaces.

“This is a very mobile society,” Jones said. “Plus, we all have occasions when the carpet cleaner comes and we need to move the furniture.”

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Furniture designer Bruce Hirschhaut, upholsterer Glenn Laughlin and marketing specialist Jeff Frank came up with the idea of knockdown furniture.

“It was a thought process. We asked ourselves, ‘What’s not being done in upholstery in the United States that we think we can do?’ ” Hirschhaut says.

The trio wanted to make furniture that was mobile but heftier and more durable than lightweight futons and foam sofas. They spent three years working nights and weekends to create the line.

“The challenge was to come up with a perfect piece of upholstery that could fit anywhere,” Hirschhaut says.

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While most sofas have a hardwood frame, the knockdown sofa has a steel frame and pre-assembled coil suspension system that snaps in place.

“The structure resembles a bed frame,” Jones says. (The sofas can convert into sleepers and back again by lifting up the front rail, removing the seat box and sliding in a $100 sleeper unit.)

Masco, which bought the idea from the inventors, now offers the furniture in 12 styles, from traditional to contemporary. Priced from about $500 to $900, they are available in assorted fabrics, including florals, woven velvets and herringbone. Other design features include roll-pleated arms, fan-pleated roll arms, welt-trimmed skirt detailing and either matching or coordinating toss pillows.

Other ready-to-assemble products, such as the entertainment centers and wall units made by O’Sullivan Industries of Lamar, Mo., have been around for years. What’s changed is how consumers put them together.

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O’Sullivan has begun selling units that go together with a Velcro-like material called Vel Latch.

While that might sound a bit like using masking tape to build a bookcase, the company assures consumers that once the units are up they won’t go anywhere--unless one pulls them apart.

“Furniture manufacturing has become so sophisticated that now they can make a product that’s ready-to-assemble that looks really nice,” said Jim Hillman, vice president of human resources for O’Sullivan. “A furniture expert can tell, but the general public has a difficult time.”

Other pieces by O’Sullivan fasten together through a metal locking system.

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The bookshelves, microwave stands, file cabinets and other furnishings are made of particle wood with an oak or other finish that looks like solid wood and sell for under $100 to $600.

Unlike the Simply Together line, however, these are not as easy to take apart once consumers have put them together.

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Simply Together furnishings are available through the QVC shopping channel (call (800)-345-1515 for a free brochure on Item No. M1634), Plunkett Furniture ((800) SOFA123 for a free brochure), Spiegel and JCPenney catalogues. Once ordered, a sofa usually takes less than a week to arrive at the customer’s doorstep.

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O’Sullivan products are carried at Surroundings in Tustin, Design Source in Fountain Valley and Today’s Furniture in Orange.


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